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Mike Evans
NFL

The Rise of Big Slot Receivers in Today’s NFL

  • Ryan Fowler
  • March 24, 2022
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When you idealize a typical slot receiver, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? The Julian Edelman, Wes Welker-type with shiftiness and sure hands?

I thought so.

While the NFL is a constantly evolving machine where its yearly successes are constantly built upon and modernized for the offensive scheme each team looks to deploy, the days of the “smaller” slot have slowly begun to faze out of the picture. It’s paved the way for the larger, more physical presences at the wideout spot, and in turn, nightmares for opposing coordinators to counter.

The frame of a nickel corner is somewhat similar across the entire league. An average of 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, the fleet of foot defenders in the past have slotted nicely opposite some of the league’s best in-space water bugs. Whether it was Edelman, Welker, the likes of Cole Beasley, Danny Amendola – all with similar frames and similar skill sets – the performance ceiling for said talent remained capped considering each receiver’s athletic profile and target share within an offense. They were target hogs, zone eaters and sure-handed talents that often represented the safety blanket of an offense. However, as the league has continued to get bigger, stronger, faster at every position, so too has the threshold for keeping up with the pass-happy offenses of the league today.

Aligned off the line of scrimmage where corners are left without the ability to immediately jam and disrupt timing, the insertion of bigger bodied, more physical and just flat out more talented pass catchers inside the formation has seen an increased rise in usage over the last few seasons. From Mike Evans to Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Brown, placing an inferior corner on these bigger-bodied weapons has seen offenses create mismatches across the board. Add in the fact defensive coordinators rarely ask their top corners to travel and shadow an offense’s top receiver anymore and you can vividly understand why the trend has kicked into high gear as offensive coordinators attempt to excavate any advantageous matchups they can get their hands on.

Where the newfound home of bigger bodies takes a step further is in the run game. Where smaller, lighter players weren’t much of a threat in displacing bodies to create holes for ball-carriers, a 215-pound wideout has presented offenses with a further extension of the offensive line, acting as almost another tight end just a few yards outside the hash. In prior years, teams would flex out a tight end, or bring in another offensive lineman as an eligible receiver on short-yardage situations. But remaining neutral from an alignment perspective and not tipping your hand, whether teams line up in a base 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end) or not, to keep defenses honest and prevent them from bringing in six DB’s to defend the pass or stack the box with eight defenders to bulk up against the run, has remained a focus for teams.

Given that these big boys on the interior can now threaten with speed, physicality through the contact window and as a mover of men in the ground game, the reign of smaller stature wideouts as static slot receivers is coming to an end. There’s a movement among the masses as more customized and tailored offensive approaches diversify from week to week and it’s kicking some of the league’s premier pass-catchers into the slot, introducing a new wrinkle to gameplans that have kept opposing coordinators awake long into the night.

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Ryan Fowler